When a Reporter Calls
Sometimes a reporter may call you seeking information about a sensitive topic. Don't hesitate to tell the reporter that you don't have time to talk at the moment, but that you'll call him or her back soon. Then call the Media Relations Office (507-389-2523), and we'll help you generate a response that's accurate and thorough.
What to do when a reporter calls
The guidelines below offer an in-depth explanation about the importance of consulting with the Media Relations Office before answering questions from the press.
- Obtain the reporter's name and publication or broadcast station and ask exactly how you can help him or her.
- Are you the appropriate spokesperson? If not, refer the reporter to someone who is or to the Media Relations Office at 507-389-6838 and we will direct the reporter to the most appropriate source.
- Try to see the reporter in person instead of talking over the phone. Distance and deadlines frequently make this impossible, but face-to-face communication is preferable, especially when discussing complex material that needs an in-depth explanation.
- Unprepared? Tell the reporter you will call back in 15 minutes or so. Collect your thoughts and then follow through on your promise to provide an interview.
- Have a message. Make a list of three to five main points you would like to make during the interview, regardless of what you're asked.
- You are in charge. Take the initiative, don't wait for the reporter to ask the questions. Remember your three to five main points, and begin making them right off the bat, even if it means going beyond the question you've been asked.
- Who is your audience? It is NOT the reporter. They are conduits for you to get your message across to who you want to target.
- Conflict is news; the routine isn't. Reporters often frame their questions to bring out the conflict in a story. State your position in positive terms; don't repeat any negative words in the reporter's question. Don't fan controversy.
- Anticipate the tough questions you may be asked and rehearse your answers (the Media Relations Office can assist you). If they're not the questions you'd prefer to respond to, address them briefly and segue to what you want to say.
- Use simple language instead of technical terms and jargon. Speak in short sentences. Remember that experience levels of reporters vary.
- Be brief. Newspaper reporters can take more time in their interviews and present more information than reporters from radio and television can. Seven seconds is the average length of a television soundbite.
- Offer background help. Fax or e-mail a reporter additional information to promote better understanding of complex issues.
- Be friendly, but don't be lulled into flippancy or forced humor. Assume everything you say to a reporter (even in a social situation) may appear in print.
- Respect reporter's deadlines. Return phone calls promptly. In most cases, a reporter needs a response in minutes, not in hours or days. Opportunities may be lost.
- Don't expect a reporter to show you a story before publication; it conflicts with journalistic ethics and professionalism. If you fear a point has not been understood, ask the reporter to repeat it. Encourage a follow-up phone call for further clarification or additional information if needed. If you're still concerned, ask the reporter to read your quotes to you once the story has been written.
- If you're misquoted, try to contact the reporter rather than the editor. But don't overreact, especially if the error is minor or not quite the choice of words you would have used.
- Avoid "no comment" answers. They suggest you are trying to hide something or evade the question, so try to explain why you cannot make a comment.
- Remember that audiences (particularly television viewers) are won by the attitudes of those interviewed. Be knowledgeable, sincere, compassionate and energetic.
- Above all, be honest. In some cases, the truth may hurt, but lies are deadly. And if you don't know an answer to a question, say so. Don't speculate.
- If you have additional questions, please contact Media Relations at 507-389-6838.